Rethinking Hood Laneways With Bryn Davidson & Mat Turner…
Lanefab Laneway Housing is a Vancouver based design/build partnership between Bryn Davidson – a LEED accredited designer- and local builder Mat Turner. With an upcoming lecture at Granville Island’s Lighthouse Sustainable Building Centre (see this week’s Scout List for details), we thought it would be interesting to ask them a few questions about what they do, why Vancouver is ready for them, and what a ‘Lanefab Manifesto’ for improving eco-density in Vancouver might look like.
Three things about your neighbourhood that make you want to live there:
Bryn: Main St./Mt. Pleasant: 1. Close to downtown and skytrain 2. Interesting and creative neighbourhood with many good cafes with free wireless 3. Relatively affordable (given 1. and 2.). Mat: Fairview – I live close to all of my favorite parts of the city – easy walking distance to Granville, Broadway, Cambie and Main. It is only a 10 min bus trip to downtown.
Where do you enjoy shopping for food and furniture in Vancouver?
Bryn: Brewery Creek Cold Beer and Wine (Main and 15th): The only really good selection of beer in the city (other than Six Acres pub in Gastown). Brewery Creek carries many of the fantastic American micro-brews that are impossible to find anywhere else north of the border. Furniture: ‘Vancouver Special’ for new, ‘Sugar Barrel’ for mid century modern. For ‘working cafes’ I rotate between ‘Our Town’, ‘Gene’, and ‘Bean around the World’ which are all near Main and Broadway. Mat: One of my favorite hobbies is cooking. When I moved to Vancouver 3 years ago, my full day of driving from parking lot to parking lot to find the right ingredients was transformed to a short walk to Granville Island. Infact, I am a bit embarrassed to say, I quite often saved time by driving to Vancouver from Langley to pick up decent products. When I don’t have enough time to make dinner I am fortunate that I live across the street from, what I believe, to easily be the best pizza in Vancouver- Zacchary’s- hint #17 is my favorite.
What is your favourite Lanefab design?
Bryn: Probably the LF2. I designed it as an example of what I would want to live in if my wife and I decided to have a baby and needed a second bedroom. The LF2 is ground oriented, has a ‘bike garage’, 2 bed ‘pods’ and still comes in under 16′ tall. The general layout is based on our current home, the ‘Rao/D Pod’ – a 360sf condo that we gutted and renovated as an experiment in small-footprint living. Mat: My favorite designs are actually ones that are still in the development stages. We have been able to take aspects of our current plans and adapt them to suit the site. It is always exciting to be able to build a brand new, super efficient, healthy green home that looks like it has always been there.
Why is Vancouver a good city for Lanefab?
Bryn: It has lanes! (unlike many other cities) which provides the opportunity for these mini-dwellings to function as real independent homes versus simply being backyard novelties. There is also an established history of urban condo living, so there is already much broader acceptance of the viability of micro-dwellings for singles, couples or even families. Mat: The last I heard, there were 75,000 lots in Vancouver that could support a LWH. Most of these lots are close to Transit routes and bike lanes, which makes them very attractive for rental units. When my wife and I were looking to move to Vancouver we considered renting but could not find anything in the rental market that fit our criteria of safe neighborhood, close to restaurants, shopping and transit at a reasonable rate.
What are the top three signs that Vancouver is a city aware of the importance of sustainability?
Bryn: When we first moved here (from Anchorage Alaska) we were amazed by the narrow streets, preservation of small scale retail (vs. big box), the bike street network, and the transit system which is used by everyone (vs. just the poor, as in some US cities). It’s also pretty amazing that nearly all of the ultra-high-value waterfront land is publicly owned.
Is there a local interior designer, architect or landscape architect that you admire above all others?
Bryn: Hmmm. If anyone, I’d probably say Patkau Architects. I studied under Patricia Patkau at the UBC School of Architecture, and I’m a fan of their style of innovative west-coast modernism. Their approach aims for what I’d call ‘meaningful invention’ (in contrast to a Gehry-esque sculptural approach) and integrates green features without sacrificing design intent.
Other than waiting for Council to adopt a final draft guidelines regulating their construction, what is the biggest challenge of working with Laneway houses?
Bryn: The biggest challenge is trying to work around the parking requirements while still creating spaces that I would want to live in. I’d prefer to create nice homes for people versus nice homes for cars.
Other than that, it’s also been a challenge to create designs in the nouveaux-heritage style that many clients are demanding. I’m what you might call an ‘eco-modernist’ by training and inclination, and it’s occasionally frustrating adding heritage features which hinder access to daylight and natural ventilation.
You are currently working on a project with Light House Sustainable Building Centre to build a Lanefab structure as “a leading demonstration of eco-friendly design and construction for infill dwellings and detached garden suites” in Vancouver, can you tell us what will distinguish this structure as a leading example?
Bryn: I think that the real example will be delivering a super-insulated green building at market competitive prices. By investing in the walls, roof, and good windows we are able to save much of the money and space that would typically go towards a boiler or furnace. For those clients wanting to push the envelope further, we can also do a ‘net-zero’ solar energy package and/or a rainwater capture package that redirects rainwater to the toilet, laundry, and landscaping.
In a nutshell, how does one go about building to ensure a “net positive” impact on their community’s emissions and oil dependence?
Bryn: ‘Net positive’ means that your project has a measurable, positive impact at the scale of the city – and, in most cases, this just means having a renovation / replacement / repair component as part of each project (in addition to making all of your new construction highly energy efficient). By contrast, a brand new ‘green’ building built on a natural site is not net positive because it is still adding to the city’s total consumption of resources.
With Lanefab, we’re building super-insulated mini homes in walkable communities that will have very low energy consumption. At the same time we’re asking clients to work with us to make their existing house more energy efficient. Ideally, at the end of our work with a given client, we would like the entire site (main house + lane house) to use 10% less energy than before we were involved.
If you were in charge of it all, what would the ‘Lanefab Manifesto’ for improving eco-density in Vancouver look like?
Bryn: In many ways Lanefab is a laboratory for trying to apply ideas developed through the Dynamic Cities Project – a non profit think tank that I co-founded 5 years ago to research peak oil and climate change impacts on cities. A Lanefab manifesto, then, is really a Dynamic Cities manifesto:
As a general planning and design strategy, I would aim for every project to be: 1. Green 2. Net-Positive 3. Resilient.
Of the 3 strategies, ‘Green’ is relatively well understood. A policy for ‘net positive’ development would likely involve some sort of offset-fund whereby you would be charged a fee based on the net change in energy and water consumption for your site. If your new building uses less energy than what it replaced, then there would be no fee. If it uses more, then you would be charged a proportional fee that would go towards improving the energy efficiency and resiliency of other buildings in your city (like schools or low income housing). I’d like to see the same strategy applied to cars and trucks as a means to finance the electrification of our transit fleets and freight rail systems.
‘Resilient’, for me, has two meanings. It means being able to quickly recover from shocks (like rising energy prices, or food shortages) it also means that a ‘resilient city’ will function well in a wide variety of possible futures – including ones defined by peak oil and climate change. By contrast, new investments in road capacity or airports are probably not resilient investments, because they only have value in a ‘business as usual’ future.
What inspires your work?
Bryn: I’d say that I’m inspired by the opportunity I’ve been given to take a very eclectic approach to doing design and research. My current blend of projects lets me work at a very local, very personal level, but also takes me to many different cities to discuss the major energy and environmental challenges that we’re facing globally. I’ve worked in the fields of engineering and architecture, and I’m continually influenced by my wife (an urban planner with an even broader background in graphic design and physics) and I’d like to think that my work is inspired by the sometimes random connections between all of these various influences. Mat: I am a bit of building technology geek. I am passionate about new building techniques and products? and try to use them when ever possible.